CFS presents ‘Travelers and Magicians”

Angela Allan

The second film presented by the Cultural Film Series this semester is “Travelers and Magicians,” one of the first feature films to be shot in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, showcasing the rich landscape and traditions of the country.

Supposedly, Bhutan is the inspiration for Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel, “Lost Horizon” (later adapted into film by Frank Capra), and the kingdom only became nationalized in the 1960s. Under this reformation, it adopted Dzongkha as its official language, which is featured in the dialogue of “Travelers and Magicians” (with subtitles). The film’s narrative draws largely from the country’s largely rural tradition as well as the sense of transition.

Keeping with CFS’s Fall 2006 theme, “On the Road,” “Travelers and Magicians” embarks on a scenic journey across Bhutan’s countryside, following Dondup, a restless university graduate who plans to pick grapes in the United States rather than serve as a village government official. The dissatisfied Dondup listens to rock music and wears Western clothes, setting out for what he only imagines can be a better life. While hitchhiking, he meets a monk, a papermaker and the papermaker’s young daughter, Sonam, and the group continues their travels together.

Throughout the journey, the clever monk tells Dondup the sensuous and cautionary tale of Tashi, a headstrong young man studying magic, whose travels from his village mirror Dondup’s own predicament.

Tashi’s story is one of passion, lust and murder that provides insight for Dondup’s growing attraction to the beautiful Sonam. Examining the classic dilemma of “the grass is always greener,” “Travelers and Magicians” is not only an odyssey across the scenic countryside of Bhutan, but also a question of the mind and heart as Dondup struggles with his conflicting feelings.

The setting of Bhutan works well with the film’s theme: having no electricity, currency, roads or schools until its nationalization under its king, the country represents a pastoral peacefulness as well as a contrast between the old and the new. The film provides an opportunity to introduce Bhutan on the world stage.

This 2004 drama is the second feature from writer and director Khyentse Norbu, whose 1999 debut, “The Cup,” about a group of Indian monks obsessed with World Cup soccer, was widely acclaimed and distributed around the globe. Like “The Cup,” “Travelers and Magicians” does not feature professional actors. Instead, it enlists television broadcasters, a banker, an academic researcher and a high school student to make up the cast. Similarly, Norbu is not exclusively a filmmaker; he is also one of Bhutan’s most important lamas, who are Buddhist religious leaders, and he spends his spare time traveling Asia toteach Buddhist philosophy.

“Travelers and Magicians” will be shown at the Connelly Center Cinema on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 17 at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5 for other viewers. The Monday showing will feature Joan D. Lynch, former CFS director, as a guest speaker to introduce the film and lead a discussion afterwards.